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Notre Dame just kicked off 2019 training camp at Culver Military Academy about an hour south of South Bend. I have high expectations for the team this season, and I am looking at a few specific players to take a big step up this year. Here are a few of the names I’m paying close attention to both in training camp and the rest of the season.
WR Chase Claypool:
Chase Claypool enters his senior season and is one of the most physically freakish players on the roster. The first time I saw him in person his size and athleticism stood out, and I’ve even seen him throw down windmill dunks in pickup basketball. He has had decent production so far in his career, but this year I expect massive numbers similar to that of Miles Boykin last year, possibly even reaching levels close to Will Fuller or Michael Floyd.
WR Kevin Austin:
Kevin Austin is a rising sophomore who flashed in a few moments his freshman season. However, there are rumors around the program that Austin might be a facing a four-game suspension similar to what Dexter Williams had last season. But as Williams proved last year, missing the first four games doesn’t mean a failed season. Austin is one of the most talented players on the roster, and I expect that talent to allow him to make important plays for the Irish this season, even if he doesn’t play until October.
TE Cole Kmet:
Cole Kmet is a popular pick around the Irish community to breakout. He is entering his junior season, and like Claypool, he is one of the most physically gifted guys on the team. With Alize Mack gone, Kmet will be the TE1. He has shined in spring and summer practice and should be one of Book’s favorite targets this year. The biggest concern surrounding Kmet is that he might be so good that he leaves for the NFL early.
LG Aaron Banks:
Banks is also entering his junior season and will be a Week 1 starter for the first time in his career. At 6’5 320 he is the biggest guy on the o-line. He took over for Alex Bars last season after Bars went down with an ACL injury and he looked very good in the time he had. I expect Banks to play great this year and be a big reason for the success of the ND rushing attack and protection of Ian Book.
DE Julian Okwara:
Okwara is going to be a senior, and he is already being projected in the first round of many 2020 NFL mocks. His combination of speed and strength is incredible, and he has come out and said his goal is 18.5+ sacks this year. That might be a little high, but I’d be disappointed with anything less than 10. I think he and Khalid Kareem will be the best pass-rushing duo in football, and I expect them to combine for 20+ sacks. Mark my words.
LB Jack Lamb:
LB is ND’s weakest position this year, but one guy I believe will surprise people is sophomore Jack Lamb. Lamb was a 4-star recruit with offers from most top programs in the country, and at 6’4 235 he is perfect for the Buck position. He isn’t a lock to start the season as the starter at Buck, but I expect he will be the best LB on the team by mid-season.
S Kyle Hamilton:
Hamilton is a freshman this year who was ND’s only 5-star recruit. He is one of the most athletic guys on the roster, but the only issue is he is in ND’s strongest position at safety and stuck behind certified studs in Alohi Gillman and Jalen Elliot. Despite this, in the time Hamilton gets on the field he will flash. In fact, in today’s opening practice he had three interceptions. ND fans can get used to that.